TTUHSC students succeed in earning dual degrees
Today, becoming a health care professional requires being multidimensional and an intense dedication to serving others. A growing number of students are taking that dedication to another level by completing dual degrees.
Amanda Rodriguez vividly remembers treating her first cochlear implant patient. The 92 year-old patient was originally told that she was not a candidate for cochlear implants because of her age. When the switch was turned on to activate the implant, the woman was able to hear her husband for the first time in many years. The patient’s husband asked, “does this mean we can pray together now?”
“To witness a person go from silence to detecting any sound is absolutely breathtaking,” Rodriguez said. “I still get emotional thinking about it. We help provide access to sound for communication, and that is what drives me in this field.”
Rodriguez completed a dual degree with a Doctor of Audiology while working simultaneously on a Doctorate of Philosophy. Early on, she felt in order to be a more well-rounded clinician, research was key.
“As a clinician, our role is to diagnose and treat hearing loss and vestibular disorders,” Rodriguez said. “The Ph.D. or research is helpful to supplement a lot of the practices we do as clinicians and investigate ways to improve tools for clinicians.”
Rodriguez, whose parents are both registered nurses, grew up in El Paso and knew she wanted to become a health care provider. She first completed her bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders for speech-language pathology, but quickly found she was not geared for the field. Instead, doors opened for her to learn more about audiology. She enjoyed that with audiology, where the objective is more of a diagnostic approach.
“We work with cochlear implant patients and then our speech therapists help make the magic happen,” she said. “Audiology is still a very primitive field and growing in the scope of practice. It is exciting to be in an innovative field that is accepting of change. I love this field because I can be a part of breaking barriers in a scientific way.”
Rodriguez chose to study medical audiology specializing in cochlear implants and vestibular disorders. Her job is to diagnose patients and work with ENT physicians. She is the first-line contact with patients to counsel on cochlear implants and dizziness. Implants are a lifetime commitment, but Rodriguez said the job is rewarding. She said the patients appreciate what you do because audiologists help identify a problem and help find a solution.
She has worked with infants with minimal to no hearing and has been able to see them grow and communicate. She also works to improve devices for all individuals from athletes to registered nurses. One of her jobs is to give patients devices to be functional in any situation.
Rodriguez completed both degrees in six years. She had the opportunity to study at the Mayo Clinic for an externship as a part of her audiology degree. While at the Mayo Clinic, she learned about interprofessional collaboration and was able to bring some of those practices back to TTUHSC. The team approach for vestibular and cochlear implant patients was adapted.
After graduation, Rodriguez will be completing a fellowship at the Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, a national hospital well established for speech and hearing sciences in pediatrics. She will study pediatric vestibular research looking at ways to determine if children with cochlear implants or with vestibular loss are impacted cognitively or academically.
“I hope to grow as a researcher and independently develop a line of research that is applicable to audiology, especially for pediatrics,” Rodriguez said. “After, I hope to go into academics along with working in a clinical setting. I also had the opportunity to teach while working on my degrees and you didn’t realize how much you enjoy mentoring students until my last lecture. I always tell my students I want you to be better than me. That’s the point, to grow the next generation of professionals. I want to mentor and teach students and give them further opportunities. After my post-doctoral, I would love to teach, perform research and treat patients, the trifecta dream job.”